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A Balancing Act
Jim Scatliff

We know that cats can run along the top of a fence without falling off, but we don’t often wonder how they do that. Dr. William Hoole, from the Division of Speech and Hearing at the UNC School of Medicine, had us thinking about maintaining balance recently. He pointed out that cats rely heavily on vision, and especially the nerves in their paws, to keep their balance. And we can pick up some pointers from them about preventing falls.

Dr. Hoole talked to about 50 residents at Carolina Meadows about the important links between vision, and vestibular sacs and proprioceptive nerve sensors in maintaining our own balance. Vestibuli are tiny fluid-filled sacs in our inner ears. Proprioceptive sensors, especially in the feet, are sensory terminals that relay information to the brain about body movement and position. Vision is important too. As we know, if we close our eyes, the other two functions alone may not keep us upright.

As we age, the risk of falling increases.  It goes from 45% at age 65, to 65% at age 75, and 82% at age 85. Dr. Hoole offered three suggestions to prevent falling. First, turn on lights or a flashlight to navigate in a dark room. Second, keep exercising. Even modest workouts can help. And third, be extra careful in moving about when taking sedatives or antihypertensive agents. They may inhibit vestibular or proprioceptive nerve function.

Thanks to our resident-directed Health and Wellness Committee for arranging this medical update. Dr. Hoole’s presentation itself was an excellent balancing act.

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